One of our favorite things about national parks is that there’s truly never a bad time to visit. Our parks offer year-round recreation, each season with its own distinct charm and unique activities.
Winter in a national park, though, is especially magical.
For one thing, crowds are nonexistent. Then there’s the serene beauty of snow blanketing the landscape, abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, and the possibility of spotting the Northern Lights.
And for true adventure lovers, a few U.S. national parks offer a particularly unique winter experience: skiing inside a national park. We do mean a literal few — today, just three national parks have lift-serviced ski areas (though, fun fact, Rocky Mountain National Park did from 1955-1991).
A quick note: several national parks offer cross-country skiing in the winter, but here we’re focusing solely on formal downhill ski areas.
3 National Parks You Can Ski
If you’re planning a national parks trip during the winter or spring, skiing or snowboarding should definitely be on your itinerary!
There are only three places it’s even possible — including one you’re probably not expecting — so this is a true bucket list experience.
1. Boston Mills/Brandywine Resorts, Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio
If you’re thinking, “Wait…there’s a ski resort, inside a national park…in Ohio?,” well, we can guarantee you’re not alone. In fact, many people don’t realize Ohio has a national park at all!
Serious side note, though, Cuyahoga is actually one of the best parks for fall foliage.
But back to this ski resort inside the park…there are actually two! Two, as in two separate resorts inside Cuyahoga National Park, which has an elevation of just 1,170 feet — hardly mountainous. Cuyahoga does have some deep valleys, though, which are perfect for gentle downhill skiing.
The two resorts, officially known as Brandywine Ski Resort and Boston Mills Ski Resort, are widely considered one joint ski “complex.” The beginner-friendly slopes and more challenging terrain parks mean Boston Mills and Brandywine have a little something for everyone, and they’re excellent for learning.
And for the littlest adventurers (or when you just want a break from the slopes!), head to Polar Blast Snow Tubing Park next to Brandywine.
2. Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington
The summit of Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area sits at 5,240 feet — nearly one mile high — and gets over 400 inches of snow each year. No wonder someone built a ski hill here!
At just three hours from Seattle, Hurricane Ridge is easily accessible. However, it’s often overlooked in favor of closer ski resorts in the Cascades, giving visitors a better experience overall: no crowds or lift lines and pow that stays fresh for several days, sometimes as long as a week.
Another benefit of Hurricane Ridge being a hidden gem is that it’s super affordable. Single-day lift tickets are just $38 and passes are also available. Actually getting a ticket is a very informal affair; purchase online ahead of time or buy one from the trailer in the parking lot when you get there.
Lessons and equipment rentals are available onsite, and there’s also a visitor center with restrooms, a cafe, and a gift shop.
In addition to downhill skiing, Hurricane Ridge has a tubing park and children’s snowplay area (bring your own sleds or tubes). Park rangers also sometimes offer guided afternoon snowshoe walks, and snowshoes are included.
Hurricane Ridge is open on weekends and some holidays from December through March, with exact opening and closing dates determined by weather and snow conditions.
Speaking of snow conditions, getting to Hurricane Ridge isn’t always an easy task. Winter storms often affect the road opening and because of that, all vehicles are required to carry tire chains without exception.
For up-to-date conditions, call the Hurricane Ridge Road hotline at (360) 565-3131, visit the ski area’s Facebook page, or follow Hurricane Ridge on Twitter.
3. Badger Pass Ski Area, Yosemite National Park, California
Fun fact: Badger Pass Ski Area opened in 1935 and is one of the oldest in the country. While it was being built, Yosemite’s first president put in a bid to host the 1932 Winter Olympics, but Lake Placid, NY was ultimately chosen.
Nestled into the south side of Yosemite, this ski area features five lifts, a terrain park, 22 miles of groomed cross-country skiing trails, a tubing area, and equipment rentals — something for everyone, regardless of skill or experience level!
Over 80% of the runs at Badger Pass are marked beginner or intermediate, making this a fantastic place to learn or hone skills. There’s also a ski school onsite, and rangers often lead free guided snowshoe walks.
Badger Pass is typically open from mid-December through mid-March, although exact season opening and closing dates are determined by weather conditions and snowfall.
The ski area is generally accessible via vehicle, but tire chains are often required. There are also complimentary shuttles from all Yosemite in-park lodging options.
Have you ever been to one of these national parks with ski areas? Whether you have or you’re planning to (or heck, even hoping to!), don’t forget to honor the occasion in a unique way.
Unlike most souvenirs, these can stay with you at all times and you can always add on to and customize them. Plus, they’re great conversation starters!
Wherever you’re skiing or boarding this winter, have a blast and stay safe!